Gosford Park: One could easily mistake director Robert Altman for a misanthrope; his dark humor (famously displayed in M*A*S*H* and The Player) borders on meanness, while the parabolic ironies of a film like Nashville throw the audience off balance. "Is this guy making fun of the human condition?" we wonder. The answer is yes and no, but in Gosford Park, a spacious murder mystery set in prewar Britain, it's mostly no.

The year is 1932; English aristocrats arrive at the country home of a swinish rich man (Michael Gambon) for a weekend of gossiping and pheasant-shooting. Downstairs, their servants attempt to keep things running smoothly. The guests treat the help abominably, but, ironically, depend on them for companionship, gossip and sex. When the philandering owner of the house is both poisoned and stabbed, we doubt that his guests have the competence to commit such a crime.

After the murder, an investigator arrives and everybody is temporarily stuck in the house. The film is more about the house than about the murder plot. Or rather, it's about the spaces in which human lives overlap. Like Nashville, the film is less a story than a walking, talking painting. The pleasure of the film, which is considerable, comes from Altman's direction, from Andrew Dunn's photography, from the dialogue, and from the adroit ensemble acting of a great cast.